I recently overheard the following conversation between the senior pastor of a large church and a young, somewhat arrogant individual.
“We’re not going to have food in the sanctuary. That just desecrates the holiness of the space.”
“Surely your congregation eats in the sanctuary on a regular basis.”
“If they do, I don’t know about it,” the pastor assured, unsure of the opposing statement.
“You do celebrate communion once a month, don’t you?”
The young questioner was proud of himself for a rather unimpressive retort. I did not have time to continue the conversation with the young man. I thought I would make a broader response for the benefit of anyone else who has dreamt of allowing congregation members to snack in church.
One must only think of the practical matters involved. Crumbs, spills and stains might not only do damage to the cleanliness of our sanctuaries but also our clothing. Our churches are meant to call people to live a better life therefore we must maintain pristine sanctuaries so that when people walk in they know that this is a place for perfect people. We are to present ourselves perfectly before the Lord. Stains on our shirts and crumbs on our lap reveals imperfection. Even Adam and Eve had the common sense to cover their nakedness before they came into the presence of God yet those of you who want to eat in church would expose your slovenly manner before God AND potential visitors!
Consuming anything apart from Christ borders on idolatory because it might lead us to believe that something other than God provides our nourishment. The dangers of this are obvious. It is our base human instincts that drive us to eat. To eat a small amount of food in the Eucharist is a reminder to us that we over-indulge in the things of this world! No, we must not encourage our congregation members to consume lots of food. We want them to leave hungry and thirsty so that their souls might be reminded of the way that they hunger and thirst for God in worship.
While some might argue that eating in church is an extension of the Eucharist and therefore worship of God, they would be mistaken. Look at the scriptures themselves: it was after the last Supper that Jesus led the disciples in a hymn! Worship comes after we eat which is why we expect congregants to eat their doughnuts in fellowship hall before entering the sanctuary. Furthermore, the scriptures make no reference to Communion involving anything more than the simple elements in worship. The Last Supper was simply a dinner with no religious connotation beyond that.
Think, too, about the company the Jesus kept when he ate. Pharisees, homeless men, tax collectors, terrorists and prostitutes? If we took that seriously then imagine who would come to our churches on Sunday morning! Surely the Lord would not think it possible to worship God while eating with such people.
Lastly, people eat together all the time in their day-to-day life. We must continually separate people’s experience with God from their day to day life so that they know that God is above and separated from their lives. Eating together is how people bond, connect, feel comfortable and develop a sense of family. Why on heaven would we want people to experience that in worship!? Worship is a time for people to be uncomfortable with their sin and reminded by their neighbor how much more work they have to do–not to be passed some cookies and told, ‘you’re okay in my church, even if you make a little bit of a mess.’
So by all means, young man.
Please keep food where it belongs and God where He belongs.